Speech - Ethiopia’s Entrepreneurship Development Programme Official Launch

Feb 19, 2013

- Delivered by UNDP Ethiopia Resident Representative Eugene Owusu


H.E. [Kii-boor] Ato Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia


H.E. [Kii-boor] Ato Mekuria Haile, Minister of Urban Development and Construction






Senior Government officials


Distinguished private sector leaders


Ladies and Gentlemen,


[Ki-boo-ran-INna Ki-Boo-Raat]




Allow me to also add my voice in welcoming you all to this historic event, and in doing so, take this opportunity to express our profound gratitude to H.E. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn for hosting us in this beautiful hall and for taking time off from his busy schedule to clearly demonstrate his commitment to our shared agenda on private sector development.


The UNDP country office has long enjoyed a special relationship with the government and people of Ethiopia and we are proud to partner with the country on this important initiative, and in its efforts to accelerate national development.


Today we are here to launch Ethiopia’s Entrepreneurship Development Programme.  But, in my view, we are here to do more than unveil a specific programme. As I look around this room I believe it is apt to conclude that we are all gathered here to pay tribute to the spirit and power of entrepreneurship.



As UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator in Ethiopia I am the first to admit my passion for development work.  But my hidden ambition and dream has always been to see the day when I myself unleash my own entrepreneurial spirit to become a successful entrepreneur and businessman!.  I have deferred those personal dreams for now. But it is my cherished hope that the initiative that we are launching today will succeed in bringing to reality the dreams of thousands (and perhaps millions) of Ethiopians, who aspire to create and grow successful enterprises, and thus, solidly contribute their quota to the  transformative agenda that the country has set itself.


Entrepreneurs come with creative ideas, but more importantly they come with an ‘indomitable will’: an indomitable will that is a defining strength. We have continuously witnessed this strength in the ownership that Ethiopia demonstrates in shaping its development agenda.


And Ethiopian success stories paying homage to this attribute - this indomitable will - even at global scale are becoming more common.  If you drive up to Zenebework area here in Addis Ababa, a small and somewhat impoverished community, it now boasts the proud home of a rising international entrepreneurial woman - recently celebrated by Forbes magazine as one of Africa’s Most Successful Women.


This young Ethiopian woman - Bethlehem Tilahun - recognized talent and potential in what the rest of us could only probably see as squalor and challenge. Ethiopians in the Zenebework  neighbourhood and entrepreneurs across the country cannot but be inspired by the young Bethlehem when she was presented with the prestigious ‘Most Valuable Entrepreneur’ award at the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Week.


Bethlehem has demonstrated that budding entrepreneurs, with  the  right mix of skills training, access to finance, business advisory services, and connecting them to sources of innovation, will provide that necessary cornerstone on which to build sustainable and transformational development. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what this programme is about, and we delighted to have the privilege of HE Prime Minister Hailemariam officially launch it.



For far too long, we in Africa have sold our natural resources largely as raw materials with little value added and thus little benefit for us overall. With the right support, our local entrepreneurs can help reverse this undesirable situation.  The story of Bethlehem and her SoleRebels company that the world is celebrating, is one such testimony that this is doable. The success of SoleRebels must be an encouraging fillip and an inspiration for emerging entrepreneurs in Ethiopia. This is the story of simple ideas executed well, passion and that indomitable will that helped to turn a dream into reality, and doing so against all the challenges that this country is battling to improve the environment for a vibrant private sector.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ethiopia shares many of the challenges and aspirations of the rest of Africa.  But over recent years, this beautiful country has demonstrated its ability to nurture its own vision and aspirations for growth and development. Evidently, this commitment has yielded visible positive results.


I applaud Ethiopia for the significant development gains that have been registered in the recent past, and especially for heavily investing in infrastructure, both physical and in the social sectors. This substantial development progress in recent years has earned Ethiopia the enviable accolade as the ‘eleventh fastest mover of human development’ according to UNDP’s Human Development Report.


But one infrastructure that still needs a lot of investment - both hardware and software - is the private sector.  More needs to be done to create a more conducive environment to allow businesses to thrive. The labyrinth of bureaucratic controls, lack of access to credit, a convoluted logistics system, amongst others all require priority attention.  To this effect we are delighted to see that the Government has taken the first steps towards reviewing the logistic system and putting in place more dynamic business processes to minimize bureaucracy.



We at UNDP feel greatly honoured to see that this programme on entrepreneurship is personally championed at the highest political level by H.E. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. We are also delighted to see that there are strong indications and an express commitment from Government at the highest levels to frontally tackle the challenges that confront the private sector in this country. 


As UNDP, we commit to strengthen our partnership with Government as it endeavours to address the challenges that confront the private sector.  And in saying so, I believe I speak for many of the partners in this room.


Entrepreneurship and commerce as the bedrock of the wealth of nations is not an emerging idea but one that has weathered the test of time. We are all aware that commerce, backed by a strong entrepreneurial spirit has traditionally been the core platform, if not the stimulus, for economic transformation since the time of ancient civilizations.


An ancient civilization, Ethiopia was well aware of this and I have learnt with avid interest that so entrenched was entrepreneurship and commerce in ancient Ethiopia, that the first two ministers of none other than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had the title Nega-dras, which I am made to understand from friends who are Amharic speakers means the leader of merchants. We cannot have merchants without entrepreneurs!





As I conclude my remarks,  I wish to echo what  former President Thabo Mkeki famously said in one of his books ‘Africa’s time has come’.  I wish to borrow from this headline  to  say  again  that  personally  I  do  believe,  and  I  say  so  with  strong conviction that Ethiopia’s time has come. This country is on the cusp of a major development transformation. In Africa, Ethiopia is the country to watch! 


But to succeed in seizing and maximizing the contemporary opportunities that lend themselves to Ethiopia, crucially we need to connect to the energies of the people; we must connect to the enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit of the people, and we must develop a robust private sector, of which SMEs will be central.


There is no silver bullet solution in developing entrepreneurial skills and ensure the development of SMEs. However there are certain building blocks that need in place. The rest can be acquired learning through experience and adaptation of global best practices. Such building blocks include designing innovative training programmes on entrepreneurship development; facilitating access to affordable financing; facilitating access to markets; improving skill, knowledge and technological capacities, and facilitating dialogue with government to make the environment more enabling for businesses.


That is why today we are unveiling this programme, and placing on the table another piece of the intricate puzzle to help reduce poverty, robustly grow SMEs, create jobs, inspire the country’s productive sector and propel sustainable and equitable growth. Given the large numbers of unemployed in Ethiopia, and an overwhelmingly young population, one thing that is clear is that the public sector cannot meet the increasing employment needs of the population.


We need to turn the large pool of unemployed into job creators, as opposed to job seekers! We need to deepen enterprise and entrepreneurial development to create a vibrant middle class and a diversified economy, and most importantly to broaden sources of development financing. 


And we are looking to all of you, entrepreneurs, the larger private sector, academia and our fellow development partners to forge a strong partnership around this programme; a worthy enterprise that can only be a sound development investment in support of Ethiopia’s transformation agenda




Thank you, HE PM Hailemariam for your personal commitment and being the champion of this initiative. Thank you HE Minister Mekuria for the trust and confidence reposed in UNDP to partner with your Ministry to roll out this important initiative. And I will be remiss in my duties today if I fail to pay tribute to former PM Meles Zenawi, who in private conversations with me made clear his belief in the entrepreneurial spirit of Ethiopia and Ethiopians; a belief that  inspired this programme.


I believe in Ethiopia. I believe in the enterprise and the entrepreneurial potential of Ethiopians. As one walks around parts of Addis Ababa, as one visits Merkato, as one drives to Debre Zeit and other parts of this beautiful country, the spirit of entrepreneurship is all too evident. Let us seize this opportunity! 


As I defer, for now, actions on my own personal dreams to become a successful entrepreneur and businessman, let us join hands and take advantage of the initiative that is being rolled out today to broaden and deepen the ‘Nega-dras’ spirit; let us join hands and take advantage of this initiative to create hundreds of Tseday Asrat of Kaldis fame in this country, thousands of Bethlehem Tilahuns and hundreds of thousands of Sole Rebels!.


Lets take advantage of this initiative to grow dozens of our own Aliko Dangotes!

With the right support and policy environment, this is indeed achievable.

Yes, We can! Yes Ethiopia can   (Yi-Cha-Lal)

Amesagenalu. I thank

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